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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   {25
Klavdia Mikhailovna brought in a few sprigs of pussy-
willow—how they got into stern, wartime, barricaded
Moscow heaven knows—and placed a sprig in a glass
at each bedside. The reddish sprigs and white, fluffy
bolls smelt so fresh that it seemed as though spring itself
had come into ward forty-two. Everybody that day felt
joy and animation. Even the silent tankman mumbled a
few words through his bandages.
Alexei lay and reflected: In Kamyshin, turbid streams
are running down the muddy sidewalks into the glisten-
ing, cobble-stoned road, there is a smell of warmed earth,
fresh dampness and horse dung. It was on a day like this
that he and Olya had stood on the steep bank of the
Volga and the ice had floated smoothly past them on the
limitless expanse of the river amidst a solemn silence,
broken only by the silver, bell-like strains of the larks.
And it had seemed as though it was not the ice that was
floating with the stream, but he and Olya, who were
noiselessly floating to meet a stormy, choppy river. They
had stood there without saying a word, dreaming dreams
of such future happiness that in that spot overlooking the
wide expanse of the Volga, in the freely blowing breezes
of the spring, they had struggled for breath. Those
dreams would never come true, now. She will turn away
from him. And even if she does not, can he accept this
sacrifice, can he permit her, so bright and fair and graceful,
to walk by his side while he hobbled along on stumps?...
And he begged the nurse to remove the naive harbinger
of spring from his bedside.
The sprig of willow was removed, but he could not so
easily rid himself of his bitter reflections: What will
Olya say when she learns that he has lost his feet?
Will she leave him, obliterate him from her life? His
whole being protested against this. No! She is not like
that! She will not throw him up, will not turn away from
him! But that would be even worse. He pictured to
himself her marrying him from an impulse of her
noble heart, marrying him, a cripple, and for his sake
giving up her dream of a higher technical education,
harnessing herself to office drudgery to keep herself,
a crippled husband and, perhaps, who knows, even